Encinitas to focus on housing, transportation in 2019

Encinitas will continue making strides toward affordable housing, safer transportation, more attractive roads and a friendlier place for the environment, Mayor Catherine Blakespear said in a recent interview.

In 2018, many city discussions centered around the city's need for a state-mandated housing element, which spells out how a city proposes to rework its zoning to accommodate its future housing needs, particularly those of low-income people. Encinitas voters in November rejected Measure U, the city's latest attempt toward meeting the mandate and second failed plan in six years.

The city must adopt a new housing plan every eight years and hasn't updated its plan since the 1990s.

A superior court judge told Encinitas on Dec. 12 that it must adopt a housing element plan by April. The council voted to send Measure U to the California Housing and Community Development (HCD) for approval. Blakespear said despite the arguments against Measure U — which she considered a "compromise plan" — the city simply did not have the time to go back to the drawing board.

"If you look 120 days out and you leave time for the 45-day review from the state and you leave time for it to go to the planning commission and then the council and then back to the council again 30 days later for approval, all of those deadlines mean that we are in an absolutely urgent time situation," said Blakespear, who was re-elected in November. "The day the court had the hearing and made that decision, we directed our staff to send it to the state."

She also said it's imperative the city be "in front of the wave" and begin working toward the next housing plan, which is due in 2020.

"Because of lawsuits and not doing the proper planning in advance, we end up making decisions in a rush and not having as much ability to plan proactively," she said. "I want us to be in front of the wave, meaning that we dedicate the time necessary to explore options about where new housing ideally does go in the city and how we integrate that in with the transportation piece that allows for new housing to be additive for people but not to be burdensome."

She is hopeful a recently adopted policy on accessory dwelling units — sometimes known as "granny flats" — will help the city reach its numbers. In October, the city approved waiving the fees for such projects. On Jan. 22 at city hall, city staff will present pre-approved drawings and plans for such units.

"The idea is that someone could take an off-the-shelf plan and go through the process of putting a new little home onto their lot quickly," Blakespear said.

Additionally, the city will also move toward making the streets safer and work better for all modes of transportation, including cars, bikes and pedestrians.

Blakespear said the city will further pursue the idea of dockless bikes as methods for people to travel around the city and continue the coastal rail trail and underpass of the Cal Trans freeway at Santa Fe and Encinitas Boulevard.

Last month, the mayor also called for the expedition of the Leucadia Streetscape, which would revamp 2.5 miles of downtown Leucadia and was approved by the Coastal Commission in October after 10 years of city planning. Blakespear believes the project will substantially improve the environment in downtown Leucadia and the functionality of Highway 101.

"I'm excited to be embarking on that project and re-taking our local streets for local users and not as a cut-through for people trying to get off the freeway,” she said. “We also want our streets to be safer. The design of that street is not substantially different than it was 70 years ago. It's time for it to have a reconsideration of how that space is used."

While the project won't break ground until the fall, Blakespear said she is hopeful the city will implement interim methods — such as adding a bike lane to the southbound side and reducing speeds — to improve the area.

In addition, the city put up delineator posts, or "candlesticks," to separate bikes from cars.

The council will also take over the responsibility of large parts of the rail corridor in Leucadia, primarily near Vulcan Avenue, between Encinitas Boulevard and La Costa Avenue. Currently, the North County Transit District is in control of that area.

"That area does not look nice," Blakespear said. "It looks neglected, and it looks as if no agency currently has any sense of ownership over it. ... That part of the city has been a little bit rundown. I have a sense of pride in our city, and I want our city to look nice while still keeping with the community's funky, artsy, beachy vibe but not just to be left completely unmanaged. Taking control there is an exciting prospect."

The city will also explore further implementing its Climate Action Plan (CAP) by planting more trees, moving toward a more sustainable system for green waste management and pursuing a Community Choice Energy program.

Looking back on 2018, Blakespear said the city's environmental successes — notably the creation and passage of the CAP — were among some of the council's proudest accomplishments.

The CAP was rated as the gold standard and won a national award at the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Blakespear also noted the completion of the marine safety center at Moonlight Beach as one of the city's greatest feats in 2018. That project won the Public Works Project of the Year for its innovative design and functionality.

"I’m really proud of our city’s accomplishments and the path we're on for future successes in 2019," Blakespear said.

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